Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Tokay Boulevard sheep are sleeping under a blanket of snow

The Tokay Boulevard Sheep Are Sleeping Under a Blanket of Snow
The Christmas display on Tokay Bloulevard on Madison's west side is one of those that people make a point of driving by every year, even if they have to go out of their way. The shepherd is keeping a watchful eye on his flock, but they're sleeping under their glowing blankets.

This year they got buried by the blizzard and will remain under their coverlets until their electric warmth melts some of the snow. Here's what they look like in a more normal year, when they are on top of the snow instead of under it. (I never can pass the scene without thinking of the Philip K. Dick title that became the movie, "Blade Runner" -- "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?")

What's a little snow for the UW Marching Band?

Band Practice
Not much stops the University of Wisconsin Marching Band. Certainly not snow and frigid temperature (the director jokes that he doesn't believe in wind chill). I was on campus late Friday afternoon and was looking for a way to get out rhough the clogged rush hour traffic when I passed the band on the practice field near Lot 60, where I parked illegally for a few minutes to take some pictures. As I approached they were debriefing after a number that was more energetic than coordinated. Of course it was energetic. The only way to keep warm was to move vigorously.

"We'll do it one more time from the top, and then we'll be hanging it up for the day," the director said. "It's about 8° (F). They say you can't really blow when it's colder than 18° (F). So you're doing great. The wind chill? I don't believe in wind chill."

Friday, December 11, 2009

President Obama's Oslo speech in 45 words

I was going to write a long post titled "Achieving peace through just war: Orwell meets Aquinas in Obama's Oslo speech," but since the speech was so weightless and is already in the process of being forgotten, it hardly seems worth the effort. I'll leave the commentary to one of the fans of the speech, Sarah Palin, who summed it up in 45 words if I'm counting right.
"I liked what he said," Palin told USA Today newspaper, even adding that she had mentioned similar themes about "the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times" in her recent book "Going Rogue: An American Life."

"Of course war is the last thing any American I believe wants to have to engage in, but it's necessary. We have to stop these terrorists over there," she added.
And that's why in Palinland we have to send 100,000 NATO troops, mostly our own, in pursuit of an estimated 100 of those Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, which comes to about $1 billion for each individual terrorist. In Obamaland as well. Isn't it nice that they agree?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cars with those spiffy snow hats: As dangerous as they are cute

Cars with Snow Hats: As Dangerous As They Are Cute
In weather like this, by the time you've got your windshield and windows brushed off (or shoveled out), you're probably exhausted, or freezing, or both. You figure you'll get the roof later. That's why lots of cars were driving around Madison today still sporting these spiffy white hats. They're cute as hell.

They're also dangerous. The problems is that, while the snow on top gets crustier and harder as time goes by, the foundation tends to give way at unpredictable moments as the car warms up. At first the snow pack seems held to the roof by countless icy, sticky fingers. Then suddenly, with no warning, the bottom layer melts from the warmth of the car and the whole thing can go flying. It might fly backwards when accelerating from a stop sign. No problem, except maybe to annoy the people in the car behind you if it all falls on the hood of their car. The real problem happens the other way around -- when you're in traffic and have to hit your brakes. The whole thing can slide down and cover your windshield, with the crusty snow on top holding it together as a single sheet that just sits there and blocks your vision until you can get out and clear the windshield.

I once saw this happen near Park and University, when a driver braked for student jaywalkers and the snow cap came down on the windshield like a shade. They were blind until they could stop the car (in traffic) and get out and push the snow aside. Nobody was hurt, but it was a close call.

It can take forever to brush a foot of snow off the roof. Forget the brush. Just push the snow off with a shovel -- a few passes will do it. You might be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The real snow began after dark

The Real Snow Began After Dark
That's when it really started to come down hard. The 7.1 inches of snow that fell before midnight yesterday in Madison set a new record for Dec. 8th, breaking the previous record of 7 inches set in 1977. We got roughly another 7 inches or so by this afternoon, for a total of 14 inches, give or take a bit depending on where you live. Power lines were down in some areas, knocked down by tree branches overloaded with snow. There were the usual injuries as people started digging out from the deep, heavy, wet snow, which overtaxed many snow blowers.
Steve Van Dinter, spokesman for St. Marys Hospital, said the emergency room has had seven amputations already today from snowblower accidents. “It’s all guys,” he said. “Fingertips are gone or even worse.”. . . Mae Knowles, a spokeswoman for Meriter Hospital, said the emergency room also had received at least three people today with "severe lacerations" to their hands from trying to clear obstructions from snow blowers.
Pretty nasty autumn weather, since it's not actually winter yet. The good news is that as the new El Nino settles in, we're likely to have less snow than usual after New Year's.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The really big storms start out slow and easy

The Really Big Storms Start Slow and Easy
It didn't snow much in Madison this afternoon, a few flakes here and there, scarcely more than flurries, an inch at most. But you could tell from the light that something was on its way.
THE sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.

-- John Greenleaf Whittier
And then the real blizzard hit.

Winter storm warning? Bring it on, says the steelhead down at Wingra Boats

Winter Storm Warning? Bring It On Says Steelhead at Wingra Boats
They're saying there's going to be a lot of snow headed our way this afternoon, evening and much of tomorrow -- and there's an official winter storm warning. We can expect as much as a foot or more of snow, high winds, falling temperatures and blizzard conditions. This guy doesn't look too worried. Of course, he doesn't have to drive.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Using a kayak as an icebreaker on Lake Wingra

Ever wonder what a kayak sounds like breaking through a thin film of fresh ice, like an icebreaker riding up over the arctic ice sheet? Or what paddles sound like chopping through the crystalline surface? This is what they sounded -- and looked -- like Sunday morning on Lake Wingra in Madison.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Autumn's remains freeze over ahead of the big snowstorms

Autumn's Remains Freeze Over Ahead of the Big Snowstorm
These oak leaves were entombed in ice near the shore of Lake Wingra Sunday morning like prehistoric relics preserved in amber. Now you see them, now you won't -- the snow storms predicted for early this week will lay down a white blanket that's not likely to be lifted until spring.

The hardworking crew keeps the runway clear so the big planes can take off

The Crew Keeps the Runway Clear So the Big Planes Can Take Off
Most of Lake Wingra had a thin icy skin this morning, which didn't seem to particularly please the Canada Geese that winter over hereabouts rather than migrating. They're bigger than the migrators, and also seem smarter. Although they can take off and land on ice, they would prefer not to -- especially when it's new and could break under them. (It's understandable -- how would you like to run along the ice in your bare feet while beating your wings?) They seemed to have figured out that if they paddle along single file through the icy film on the lake, they could break the ice and clear a channel of open water to serve as a runway for takeoffs and landing, of which there were many.